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Help & Advice

Coping with exam stress

Here are some tips and advice for students and their families on how to cope with exam stress.

If you are taking exams

Working towards exams can be really stressful. While it might seem that some sail through their exams without a flicker of worry, for many students this period can prove stressful, frustrating, and exhausting. We can have high expectations of ourselves or feel other people expect us to get good grades. The pressure placed on us to achieve - whether this from ourselves or from those around us - can become overwhelming and talking about it can be a real struggle. This can cause us to experience symptoms of stress, anxiety and panic attacks.

It can be hard to talk about the stress we are feeling or take time look after ourselves and reduce the impact of exam stress; however, bottling stress up and trying to manage it alone can often make things feel worse.  Here are some things you can do to help yourself during exam time:

1) Talk about how you're feeling
By talking to someone you trust about your exam stress, you're likely to find that they are supportive and want to help. You might find that you aren’t alone in feeling so stressed and can share ways of coping with your friends.

2) Eat well and drink plenty of water

If you are hungry or dehydrated it can affect your concentration and your ability to study. It can also affect your mood, which might make it harder to cope with stress.

3) Get plenty of sleep

Whilst it might be tempting to stay up late to cram for exams or assignments, research suggests this can be unhelpful. When you sleep, you process the things you have learned, which means sleep helps you to remember the things you have studied. Lack of sleep also makes it harder to cope with stress and pressure.

4) Take frequent breaks from studying

After 45 minutes it can start to become difficult to concentrate and taking a break can help to refresh you to continue studying. We suggest doing something completely different – play an online game or go for a walk!

5) Take time to take care of you!

Self-care, self-care, self-care. Make sure you are doing things for yourself that make you feel good, such as having a bubble bath, meeting up with friends, or playing football. If you have made a revision schedule, you should schedule self-care into this.

6) Try to remind yourself that exams aren’t everything

Even though it may feel like exams are everything right now, they don’t define you as a person. Even if you don’t do as well as you had hoped there are still lots of options available. The most important thing is to simply do your best. 

7) Try out some self-help or coping strategies

If you find that the pressure feels overwhelming, you may be experiencing symptoms of anxiety. It is good to try self-help or coping strategies to reduce feelings of panic. Breathing exercises and mindfulness can be helpful and there are a number of self-help guides for anxiety and stress online.

For some young people the pressure can feel overwhelming and it can feel there are no options to escape. When someone feels trapped they can start to think about suicide as an option, or a 'way out' - this is not uncommon. If you have been thinking about suicide as an option, talk to someone. Try reaching out to those around you - a teacher you trust, a parent, a family member or good friend. If you don’t feel able to talk to someone close to you about your thoughts of suicide, contact PAPYRUS HOPELineUK on 0800 068 4141. You are not alone. You can also text us on 07786 209 697, or email pat@papyrus-uk.orgOpening hours are 10am-10pm weekdays, 2pm-10pm weekends, and 2pm-5pm Bank Holidays. 


If your child or family member is taking exams

Exam time can be a highly stressful time for young people. Whilst it’s normal for parents to want the best for their child and for them to succeed, sometimes their expectations can significantly increase pressure on young people. During exam times HOPELineUK receives increased contacts from young people who are thinking about suicide due to the stress, pressure and anxiety they are experiencing around exams. For many of these young people, the fear that they will disappoint their parents can contribute towards thoughts of suicide. Parents can support their child during exam time in the following ways:

1) Talk to them and remind them that exams aren’t everything

Encouraging and believing in your child is important and it can be exciting to see the achieve and have opportunities opening up. Making sure that your child knows you will support them no matter what grades they achieve can really help to relieve pressure. It also helps to reassure your child that if they don’t get the grades they hope for, there are lots of other opportunities available and they can still look forward to a fulfilling future. 

2) Take time to listen

Take time to listen to your child and avoid criticising how much or how little time they have spent studying. Remain positive, encourage their efforts, and ensure you take time to talk and reassure them after an exam.

3) Support them with their revision

Try to make sure they schedule in plenty of breaks and time to wind down. If you feel your child is spending too much time studying without taking a break or taking time to sleep at night, encourage them to take some time out and remind them how important sleep and breaks are for revision and learning.

4) Be more flexible with chores and other household responsibilities during exams

Exam time can be really stressful and time consuming. Having to take time out from revision to complete chores or other responsibilities can really add to that pressure. This doesn’t mean that your child can't be expected to do their regular chores again after the exam period, it just means that for a short period of time, they need space to focus on study.

5) Schedule in things to look forward to

These could be, for example, after a particular exam or at the end of a heavy revision timetable.

Some young people can feel so overwhelmed during exam time that they can self-harm or think about suicide. If you are worried about someone don’t be afraid to ask them about suicide. Many parents worry this might 'put ideas' into their heads but we want to reassure you this isn’t the case. If you feel your child or someone you care about is self-harming or thinking about suicide, try to remain calm and agree together where you will get help with this. If you are worried and want advice you can contact PAPYRUS HOPELineUK on 0800 068 4141, text 07786209697, or email pat@papyrus-uk.org.

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Suicide is the biggest killer of young people - male and female - under 35 in the UK. Many thousands more attempt or contemplate suicide, harm themselves or suffer alone, afraid to speak openly about how they are feeling.

We are the national charity for the prevention of young suicide. We draw from the experience of many who have been touched personally by young suicide across the UK and speak on their behalf in our campaigns and in our work. We need more people who share our aims to join us to strengthen our voice - together we can save young lives.

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